It was the blaring of warning sensors that finally drew Prime away from Ratchet, and had both scrambling to get to Operations. One of the first things that Wheeljack had done when it became clear the Autobots were remaining in the Tellus system was to rig an outlying warning system of satellites. That system was now sending the Autobots into a frenzy.
"So much for a peaceful homecoming," Ratchet said wryly as he made certain his paint wasn't too obviously scuffed by his Prime's 'ministrations'.
"It would not be a normal cycle if the universe failed to note a change in our lives." Optimus rubbed out a small streak of chartreuse on his arm, his long strides making Ratchet jog to remain at his side.
They slid into Operations just as Wheeljack silenced the alarms and pulled up the sensor readings on the big display. "Holy stars and protons!"
The sensors were registering a protoform hurtling toward their planets, approaching across the elliptic and hailing from a quadrant that had not been explored in many, many millennia. The reason Wheeljack was considering far more profane words, though, was the sheer size of the protoform. It was the largest Cybertronian anyone in the room had ever seen... and that was worrisome.
"Is it answering the hails?" Optimus asked.
"It is, but I can't make the replies out. Trying to pull Kup up on the Earth link," Wheeljack told him. "If that mech can't translate, we're dealing with something ancient."
"I thought Kup was," Ratchet grumbled.
The communication speakers crackled a little, interference from the incoming protoform evident. "Security Director Kup here. What d'ya need, 'Jack? Or is this about the fact everyone down here is convinced there's a … Ellie? inbound."
"Earth Level Extinction Event," Wheeljack translated, having heard that before. "It's a protoform, Kup, but massive. And not speaking any of the dialects I am familiar with."
"Patch it," Kup told him helpfully.
Wheeljack threw the communications down to Earth, and they all heard Kup's involuntary static buzz as he processed it. "What?!" Wheeljack demanded, aware Prime was listening and still watching that approach.
"That's high-court Cybertronian from my days as a grunt in the Security Forces on the frontier!" Kup exclaimed. "Wheeljack, that's a colony specialist, one of the city-mechs!"
Silence reigned supreme at both ends of the communication link in the aftermath of that announcement, while the Mars side of it watched the proximity counter steadily shrinking.
"Kup, please tell the mech welcome for us, with an encouragement to seek Esperanza instead of Lilx. We do not need to disturb Earth's governments, after all." Optimus Prime could not tear his optics from the display, as the protoform of what had been only a legendary concept -- a city-former -- closed the distance to their new home.
"I will," Kup said, before using the link to Mars to broadcast a greeting through on Prime's behalf. He knew his glyphs were rusty, but the prototype's angle changed toward a decidedly Martian vector. "He… his name is Metroplex, and he existed on a colony world that lost its population to cataclysm. He's only recently come out of stasis from the damage and seeks to reunite with his race. He sounds very lonely, Prime, and if I remember the colonials right, he's going to have lingering processor trauma. They're kind of like Symbiont-controllers, in how they bond to those that live within their protection."
"We've got experience with trauma of the loss variety," Ratchet answered grimly. "Kup, any data files you can toss me, I'll take them."
"Ultra Magnus is prepping an upload; he lived on a colonial world more than I did, after all."
"Tell him thank you," Optimus replied. "Should I go meet him?"
Kup communicated with the incoming protoform, then chuckled. "He says not to move from there, Optimus. He's scanning for an entry point. Apparently, he likes the design of Esperanza, and is going to burrow to the power source to begin his … assimilation? from there."
"This is going to be really, really awesome," Wheeljack said, finials flashing happily.
"Assimilation?" Prime asked.
"Since there is an existing city, Metroplex is going to socket himself to it, and improve the facilities, so to speak," Kup answered. "It will grant him the mass he needs more quickly than if he were to form an entirely new habitation."
"We'll be living inside another mech?" Ratchet asked in fascination.
"Well... They don't usually go bipedal like we do, but yes," Kup answered. "Send Springer back, would ya, so I can come up?"
"An excellent idea. Both Springer and Hot Rod will come down so that you and Ultra Magnus may return here," Optimus Prime said, a hint of an order in that, so Magnus would not balk.
"Understood. Earth out, Prime."
The comm-line cut, and then those in Operations watched as the protoform streaked ever closer, braking slightly, reforming into something made for penetrating the ground. The quake temblors activated at the first contact, trying to keep the city and base as stable as they could while the protoform burrowed down to the power level, worrying them all for just a few minutes. Then the shaking was over just as all the power in the base dimmed.
When it came back up, the lighting was filtered to more closely simulate the light patterns within Cybertron's buildings in all areas that the humans did not frequent. The environmental controls did not change, as Wheeljack announced the database was being processed at a rapid rate. The needs of the humans were apparently taken into consideration as the colonial specialist adjusted to the city he was snaking his tendrils into.
"Greetings, Optimus Prime. I am Metroplex, as I believe Security Director Kup has explained. It will take me some time to fully connect and extend my nanites through the city, but I have acquired a solid patch to the power and data grids." The richly resonant voice came through only the speakers in Operations. "I hope to be of service to you and this colony."
"It is our honor to meet you, Metroplex, and we are most grateful to know you are willing to join with our city here." Optimus was, to say the least, overwhelmed by the development.
"It feels good to know some of our kind still have need of me," Metroplex told him in a soft but pained voice.
"Welcome home, then, Metroplex," Optimus told him sincerely.
"Yes… home," the colonial mech agreed contently.
Optimus was sitting on the floor when Mikaela got in from helping Ratchet do a diagnostic on the giant protoform that was slowly becoming part of the city's core power room. She knew that was never a good sign, but when she had left him he had already been thoughtful. So she had half been expecting to find him like this. Granted, currently she and Ratchet were the only cohort members on Mars, and Ratchet had only just returned, so it was actually an overdue moment.
"You're thinking too much, which just proves Jazz's point that he shouldn't go Earth-side when 'Bee and 'Hide are already down there," she pointed out.
Optimus chuckled, but made no move to get up from where he was sitting, his knees up, elbows on them, and arms crossed in front of him. "Considering the tangled history of the femmes is something best done both in privacy and all at once."
Mikaela sprawled on the berth, laying on her stomach so she could watch him. "Tell me? So I understand better?"
"The femmes were a class that rivaled the Seekers in just how sophisticated and advanced their systems were, compared to the more generic classes of Cybertron. They were created far more rarely than any other class, and always migrated to one particular city after framing." Optimus contemplated how much of the secrets he should share, but then he recalled how well Arcee and Mikaela had bonded in their own way. It would not hurt to share secrets from a long lost city, not with Mikaela. "The city was at the center of a rift-valley, considered by some to have the purest free-flowing reserves of energon known on our planet."
"Ratchet said the wild energon was already disappearing before the war started," Mikaela commented. "Is that related to the fact Arcee said the femmes had also decreased in number?"
"Perceptive," Optimus praised her, his optics sparkling. "Their class were created with stronger sparks and denser frames than their size would normally suggest, because they seemed to be specially crafted for the refinement process of the raw energon. The so-called free flowing reserves existed because of their efforts. Would it surprise you to know their city-state was exactly opposite the location of the AllSpark, on the far side of Cybertron?"
"Not with all the other parallels built into your homeworld and race, Optimus," she answered him.
He nodded, then took a deep breath. "Elita One came to me with the information that the raw energon was nearly depleted from their lodes, and none of their recon efforts had located new ones. She proposed joining forces, and I accepted on a diplomatic basis, as they are warriors without peer. The hope was that we could stop the war soon enough to find new sources of energon elsewhere."
"And somewhere in the middle of this, she became more than just an ally?" Mikaela gently asked him.
His smile was soft, edged in pain, but mostly fond. "Yes. Neither of us expected more than the bond of equals, each with our own people to protect. But it evolved swiftly, as did the mutual attraction between Ironhide and Chromia. Where he has always been guided by the base Guardian principles under his warrior coding, Chromia was not. She was purely warrior, and it drew him in."
"Now she's here, in stasis, and that's going to make waves, since everyone thought she was deactivated," Mikaela finished up.
"Exactly. I must … handle her situation before Ironhide chooses to come home. Before Arcee finishes her mission, even, to be kind to them." Optimus did not like that he had so many doubts on salvaging the pair in stasis from their pain and grief.
"Because if they will not accept the truce and remain here among us peacefully, you..." Mikaela followed the line of thought, and was up and over to him in a heartbeat, plastering to his chest after bypassing his arms. "Oh, Optimus."
He held her there, taking comfort in her compassion for the hard choices he faced, and aware, unspoken as it was, that she believed he'd find a way.
Bobby Epps had never particularly wanted to be an astronaut. But then, he'd never wanted part of his world to be destroyed by giant robots, either. He'd resisted accepting a post at Esperanza until the last of his children were grown adults, out of the house, and... most importantly... moving on with their lives, unaffected by the mutation that had crept into his system.
Even with how limited he had kept his one-on-one contact with the Autobots, he was still too entwined with them to escape the long term changes. Once Ratchet confirmed that he had the same cellular level repairs going on in his body, Bobby decided the only place that would suit him was Esperanza... for one reason: Monique.
Everyone knew that for all Bobby had traveled the world and kept a marriage working despite his frequent absences, he'd missed his wife through a lot of his time in the Army, and then later as the Autobot's field agent. His mercenary experiences had been too lucrative to walk away from, supporting his larger than average family, yet the driving goal in his mind was to make a life where he and Monique grew old together.
When he learned that growing old wasn't going to be that easy, he all but fell over himself to get Monique in with the big guys, exposing her to them as often as he could, and prayed.
Maybe it was the fact that Monique loved kids, and neither Mudflap nor Skids seemed to be in any hurry to mature fully, but she found working with them in Esperanza as a first-contact team to help newly arrived, damaged Autobots a very fulfilling new career. Bobby settled in to handle the human side of security in Esperanza. The close contact with the twins -- and with Jolt, who was still their protector -- ushered in the changes Bobby had been praying for, and he got to revise his dreams to a very slow process of growing old with Monique.
Now, as chance would have it, it seemed that they not only would be living among the Cybertronians, but within one as well. Bobby had seen an awful lot in his life, but this one was almost too strange for him cope with. Privacy already meant something different to the technologically advanced species with sensors that made even his own changed senses seem dim. What would privacy mean when Metroplex's nanites had extended throughout Esperanza and subsumed the formerly non-living city?
Then there was the fact that Metroplex would, if he understood correctly, form a bond with all of his residents that was something between Ironhide's Guardian bond and that which the new young mech from Cybertron had with his symbiont (and wasn't that terrifying-looking bot a blast from the past Bobby was going to have a hard time getting over). What would that mean for himself and Monique? They'd certainly been close with various Autobots, but they had never bonded in the way Will, Sarah, Mikaela and the Witwickys had.
He wasn't sure whether he was reassured or concerned by the fact that the Autobots seemed to be as confused and fascinated as he and Monique were. Ratchet had apparently admitted that he thought the City-formers were a myth.
Resisting the urge to simply ignore the new developments for the present, Bobby opted to meet his questions head on. Sitting in a lounge in one of the sections of the city he knew the city-former had already incorporated into himself, he cleared his throat.
"So, Metroplex, been wanting to welcome you to our little corner of galaxy. I hear the boss bot is sure excited you've come."
There was a moment as Metroplex filtered the linguistic data through the vernacular cyphers, to be certain he understood all of that correctly. Many of the human languages were complex, with words that held multiple meanings as versus the transmitted glyphs that solidified what was meant via shadings and upticks of data.
"I am grateful for your welcome, Robert Epps, called Bobby by your friends, and holding the position of civilian security director. It is good to no longer be alone and deprived of the ability to express my core function."
"So, you've been alone a long time, I take it?" Bobbye asked, then grimaced at the question. If the Autobots had doubted the existence of mechs such as Metroplex, obviously the city-former had been alone longer than Bobbye had the context to understand.
"It was a very long quiet," Metroplex told him, voice gone solemn and slightly pained. "To hear so many voices congregating once more in peace was a joy to me."
"I'm glad to hear it. So many have made it here who've been alone too long, and I get the feeling that even the most unsocial mechs really need to be with others." Bobby was quiet for a moment, figuring out just how to go about waking what he needed to. "Have you... if you don't mind me asking... had multiple species living in you before?" he asked hesitantly. He again found himself squirming at just how awkward the question felt.
Metroplex considered, accessing his expansive memory banks. "Not so many species of differing origins. The colony I was with last was all robotic, though from varied colonies. Cybertronians do evolve once they leave Cybertron, adapting to their new worlds, and eventually become something like a new species. I see Seaspray is listed among Optimus Prime's numbers; he is one such case." Metroplex paused again, and then there was a faint laugh. "I am enjoying the variety. The imported non-sentient species have a way of tickling as they explore."
At first Bobby almost stiffened, thinking that humans were the "non-sentient" species Metroplex was referring to, but then realized just how many places Monique's talkative Siamese got into on a daily basis, some of which were really a challenge to get him out of.
"Man, that has got to be weird, but then again, I wasn't sparked to have a whole population living in me."
Metroplex adjusted the chair so that it was slightly more comfortable, and then dispensed a drink that was commonly ordered by Bobby nearly at his fingertips. "You are curious about how I function, and the long-term effects, are you not?" He could read that much, based off his downloads of Ratchet's guide to homo sapiens.
Bobby looked at the coke with pleasant surprise, and settled into the chair in a more relaxed way now that the city-former had introduced that rather awkward topic that he was dancing around. "If you think I'm curious, just wait 'till Monique corners you. But yeah... the changes we got working close to you big guys took all of us by surprise, mechs and humans alike. Not that I'm complaining about having a few... a lot more years, long as I got my lady with me, that is."
"I can only presume that the nanites I exude will boost the changes made in your race, due to that long-term effect," Metroplex stated. "I must maintain those who seek shelter within me, assisting their own self-repair as much as I can. It is part of a colonial's duty to ward off exterior damage from toxic environmental factors, and since your species breathes by necessity instead of for effect, system cool-downs, or immediate need of combustion, those nanites will work to repair interior damage as well."
Bobby almost spat out the drink he had just taken at the thought of breathing in parts of the giant cityformer, but then remembered a ninth grade biology lecture about the exchange of molecules that was constantly happening between living and even non-living things, and the fact that he likely received a dose of nanites every time he was in contact with one of the mechs. "Guess that means I've got a lot to thank you for, big guy. Probably will be some unexpected consequences, though, if the past is anything to go by."
"Potentially. If laws of conservation take over, I predict a decreased fertility in those so affected, as long life and quick reproduction are not mutually conducive to a stable society." Metroplex studied more of the files available on the biology of the native species. "A factor your world has not yet taken into consideration, I see."
"Oh, Monique and I are done with a capital D, no matter how long our bodies decide to stay fertile," Bobby said with a laugh, recalling the exhaustion of raising four kids, and he did not deal with even a tenth of the load Monique had, given how much he'd been away. "Not sure how we humans are going to figure that one out. Seems like we wait for good ole mother nature or war to make the difficult choices for us. There are far kinder ways we humans could handle it, if folks would stop being so afraid of nanotech and genetic advances. Those in the know aren't real pleased with the changes in those of us who've been working close, though."
"It is not uncommon for a parent species to be unnerved and afraid of the offshoots it creates as evolution and mutation creep in. But you will have our protection, and this planet is now a haven to your branch of humanity and its allies, given your close ties to my species," Metroplex reassured.
Bobby had a gut feeling that the safety and well-being of his residents was something as deeply important to Metroplex as his children's and Monique's had always been to him. There was just something in the gentle and assuring tone, and it made him wonder what the city-former was like when he was roused by dangers to those who inhabited him. A shiver passed through him when he recalled the times he'd seen Optimus Prime truly roused and protective.
"Prime's said the same thing to us, a number of times, and given that we have citizenship now, I've got no worries," Bobby commented. "So... given my duties around here, anything I should know about how to best work... and live with you? Other than keeping our cat from getting stuck places he shouldn't be?" Bobby knew Monique would throttle him if he didn't ask about how to be a polite resident.
"Live. Love. Be?" Metroplex said, after cycling through the English language and the cultural uploads provided by Jazz and Bumblebee. "As for duties, I would say continue as you have, but feel free to call upon my drones for assistance. I am always passively listening for my name, and using it, or coming into an area designated as a core location, activates my active attention and memory recording."
"So... you aren't actively aware of everything happening in you? Guess that would get to be a bit much." Bobby inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe knowing that, he'd be able to forget they were inside a living being when he and and his lady were making love. Monique had admitted that she found the opposite idea sexy as hell in a way he didn't even want to think about.
"Certain conditions also trigger my awareness. My drones can call my attention as needed. But most of my observations are spooled to memory banks that require a passcode from at least two officials and my consent to access." Metroplex paused, then let out a brief burst of musical tones, his equivalent of a thoughtful sigh. "The Prime and his designated Protector for these worlds must create a list of authorized officials, and a new code soon."
The last perked Bobby's interest even further. Not much was said, even to the changed humans, about how the relationships between Optimus and his former enemy had shifted, except, perhaps to Mikaela. They knew the two were in contact, though. It was not a topic most of the humans in the know were particularly comfortable with, given the sheer amount of suffering that mech had caused their world. "Designated Protector, huh? I'm not sure I've ever heard Prime use that title for anyone in this system. We sort of think of him in that way... to be honest."
"A Prime can only nurture; one must defend as well, if the wounds are to heal," Metroplex responded.
Bobby wasn't sure what to say to that, and finished his Coke as he thought about it. Optimus Prime had been defending since long before human civilization, but Metroplex had memories going back far beyond that. He nodded thoughtfully, wishing he could be a fly on the wall when Metroplex brought up that particular question with the big bot... who didn't seem so big any longer, come to think of it.
"If you have further questions or requests, feel free to inquire," Metroplex said. "However, your consort unit is en route to your quarters, should you wish to meet her in good time today."
Bobby smiled, and gave the wall behind his chair a gentle rap with his knuckles as he stood up, though he could just have easily patted the chair. "Thanks, big guy. Look forward to talking with you more. And same goes here. Humans can be pretty baffling. If you've got any questions, feel free to ask me or Monique, or Mikaela's a great choice, too."
"Ratchet had mentioned Mikaela is a … special case among you." Metroplex sounded intrigued. "I will keep your offer in mind. Your consort seems a likely choice, given her function here."
"That she is, and I know she'll enjoy talking with you," Bobby said, wishing he knew where to look as he took his leave, not that he was actually leaving. "Catch you later, Metroxplex."